Prosecutors Weigh Charges in News Corp. Probe

U.K. prosecutors are considering criminal charges against as many as four journalists, a police officer and six members of the public in probes triggered by a phone-hacking scandal at News Corp. (NWSA)’s News of the World tabloid.

Files given to prosecutors by the Metropolitan Police outline claims including violations of Britain’s data-protection law, perverting the course of justice and witness intimidation, the Crown Prosecution Service said today in a statement. The Met said it has arrested 42 people in three probes of voice-mail interception, computer hacking and bribery by the now-defunct newspaper and another News Corp. title, the Sun.

“We are unable to give any timescale for charging decisions, except to say that these cases are being considered very carefully and thoroughly,” CPS said in the statement, without identifying the suspects.

The claims already triggered a judge-led inquiry into media ethics that has pulled in News Corp.’s competitors and heard testimony from victims. News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son, Deputy Chief Operating Officer James Murdoch, are scheduled to testify at the inquiry in London next week, according to a person familiar with the matter who declined to be identified because the witness list hasn’t been published.

Brooks, Coulson

The scandal, involving journalists intercepting the voice mail of celebrities and bribing police for stories, led to the arrest in July of Rebekah Brooks, the ex-chief executive officer of News Corp.’s British publishing unit. Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who served as press chief to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, was also arrested.

Brooks was detained a second time last month, along with her husband Charlie, a former race-horse trainer, in a new probe dubbed Operation Sacha, which is investigating an alleged conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Police at the time said they consulted with prosecutors before making the arrests.

Brooks’s spokesman, David Wilson, declined to comment today. Neither Brooks nor Coulson were named by prosecutors in today’s statement and both have denied the allegations.

The new information from the Met was included in four files on possible charges, with each file involving one unidentified journalist. CPS spokesman Calum Grant declined to say whether the files involve separate journalists.

Witness Intimidation

One file involves a journalist and a police officer in relation to misconduct in a public office and offenses of the data protection act. Another file relates to a journalist and six members of the public accused of perverting the course of justice. The two other files concern a journalist involved in witness intimidation and a law covering data interception.

A message left at the press office of News Corp.’s U.K. unit, News International, wasn’t immediately returned.

The CPS’s director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, testified at the media-ethics inquiry earlier this month to explain why only two News of the World employees were charged with phone hacking in 2006, when police had evidence it was more widespread. Police told prosecutors at the time that no such evidence existed and resisted calls in 2009 to review the evidence again, he said.

Rupert Murdoch shuttered the News of the World in July after revelations it hacked the voice mail of a murdered schoolgirl in 2002. Civil lawsuits against the company also shed light on evidence proving the practice was more widespread than News Corp. claimed, triggering the new police probes.

Most of the arrests have been made in the phone-hacking probe, known as Operation Weeting, and the bribery investigation, called Operation Elveden -- including three people arrested for both. A separate investigation into leaks from the phone-hacking probe has also been opened, known as Operation Kilo.

The computer-hacking probe, dubbed Operation Tuleta, has garnered three arrests.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net

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